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A couple of weeks ago, after I had already queued up about 13 posts for publication over the next two weeks, I ran into this tweet.
I thought it was interesting, especially because at least half of it applies to me. As I said yesterday, my professional life is filled with attention to detail. It’s also filled with conflict — not fist fights or public shaming, but disagreements over large amounts of money. In addition to that, my childhood was filled with conflict — not disagreements over large amounts of money, but fist fights and public shaming. I don’t want any of that in my gaming (which, by the way, explains why I’d much rather play cooperative games than adversarial ones, or at least team games rather than “everyone for themselves” ones).
Well, not exactly. I want my characters to have disagreements (of both types). What I don’t want is for players to disagree to the level that it creates unnecessary stress. Modern gaming seems to have far too many arguments among players and GMs. GMs want to enforce rules, and players want to “win D&D.” While I’m more than happy to admit that my childhood instincts are often to blame for this, I’m not just talking about conflicts involving me. I see this in others as well, meaning it’s not all my fault. Conventions aren’t brawls, but if you’re looking for it, you see how frustrated we get with each other. Many gamers tend to keep it to themselves, but a careful observer can spot it, and a good GM avoids it.
That’s why I’m looking forward to revisiting 1st Edition D&D (“1e”). There are a few mechanics that remove some of the tension that I’ve experienced. For example, before a group of unsuspecting PCs open a door to a room, the unsuspecting goblins inside are going about their business, moving from one side of the room to the other to stack boxes or whatever. Where they’re all standing at the very moment the PCs open the door is a matter of random chance, and in 1e, it’s understandably determined by a die roll such that the distance between the parties when the encounter starts is random. That makes things even more interesting. Note well that 1e does this without removing player agency. The player’s character sheet has, for example, ability scores that modify the rolls. Moreover, I say “unsuspecting” to make the point that in some cases the players do suspect danger and can act through role-play that adjusts these circumstances. To me, that’s ideal, however . . . .
This places me in a paradox. I don’t want to have to remember lots of rules, but I want lots of rules to avoid conflicts. I’ve often noted that one of the primary decisions game designers face is deciding whether an aspect of the game is determined by the role of the die or a discussion with the GM. I’ve also noted that the opinions expressed on this blog are sometimes unfair to game designers. Maybe I just don’t know what I want. But I’ll say this: When in doubt, force a roll. First, that’s why we’re all here: to roll dice. Second, as I noted above, forcing a roll doesn’t remove player agency. The luck of the roll is modified by the build of the character. Players are still making their impact known. They’re just forced into a position of having to accept that roll based on a rule known, and applied fairly, to all involved.
Returning to the point of this post, I understand that some of you will disagree with my general point even if you agree with my specific example. That’s fine. You have different personalities, so different things bug you, but that’s a subjective standard, not an objective one. It’s an opinion, not a fundamental truth of game theory. I think that’s what Linnaeus was saying, and if so, I agree. This is about our personalities, and that’s no small point. In a sense, edition wars are culture wars. When we complain about the choices made by the game designer, we’re indirectly attacking those that prefer those choices. I thought the mantra was supposed to be “first and foremost, games are about having fun.” Just have fun, and let others do the same.
I did not expect this post to tie into the stupidity of edition warring, but I don’t regret it.
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